“Midnight, on the bridge. Come alone.”
Raghu’s words kept ringing in Prakash’s head. He was restless the entire afternoon. He had not responded to Raghu then. Now he had to decide whether to go there or not.
Prakash was all of eleven years but stood five feet tall and weighed seventy-two kilos. For a fifth standard boy, this was a huge physical and mental challenge. He didn’t have any friend. Boys in his class mocked him. Prakash wished he was invisible, but not at his size.
Moreover, Prakash was a scared soul – teachers, spiders, water, cats, ghosts, darkness, you name it and he would be scared. This fact empowered his tormentors infinitely.
Raghu’s gang had a scuffle with Prakash over sharing their bench today. One thing led to another and Raghu challenged Prakash to be at the bridge near the crematorium at midnight. He was to go there alone and place two hibiscus flowers next to the old milestone at the foot of the bridge.
Prakash paced up and down in his room. He was growing edgy by the hour. He was too scared of that entire area. By seven p.m. he almost gave up. Yet, each passing minute reverberated with the taunts of his classmates.
Raghu had challenged him in front of the entire class. If he did accept the challenge and completed it, chances of winning the never-had respect among his classmates were high.
Prakash’s mother noted his discomfort. At dinner, she finally asked, “What happened Prakash? You look very restless.”
“I am observing from the evening, you did not sit with homework or your colours. Tell me, I may be able to help you.”
Prakash could not hold back any longer and poured out his fears about the challenge to his only confidante. After hearing, she said, “Don’t be a fool to go there at night. These rowdy boys will find other ways to torture you even if you go today. Have your dinner and go to bed.”
Sleep eluded Prakash. He tossed and turned and fidgeted till about eleven. Then he took a deep breath and stealth out of his room and out his house. He picked up the Hanuman idol from his desk and held it tight in one hand. He picked two flowers from his garden and started on the dreaded task.
The bridge was deserted at that hour. The night sounds crept up on him from behind. He looked around with half closed eyes and located the stone. He dumped the two flowers and turned to leave. Right then someone tugged at his shirt from behind. Prakash turned pale, a cold sweat covered his body. He struggled hard for a minute to free himself then fainted.
At dawn, his mother and Raghu’s gang went looking for Prakash. They found him unconscious at the mouth of the bridge. A torn piece of his shirt was fluttering on one of the broken wires of the safety wire-net next to the bridge.